Tag: Apostle Paul

Where is the debate over universalism at?—Robin Parry

Let’s get a bit of a sense of where the current debate over universalism is at. I don’t think it’s a massive debate. I don’t think it is the hot issue at universities or in theology departments but it was not an issue at all until fairly recently. It is becoming more of an issue so it’s worth getting some sense of where some of the discussions are at, as we go forward.

The debate, as far as Scripture goes, I think has two foci: first of all, there are debates to do with the meanings of specific texts. Now, that might be specific texts about Hell—or “Hell”, depending on how you interpret the text—or it might be specific texts that are, on the face of it, universal salvation texts. You get scholars who kind of line up on both sides and sort of argue, “Well, this text is definitely teaching eternal torment….”

Annihilationism

I’m sure you’re familiar with all the debates in evangelical circles about annihilationism—maybe not? Or are you…? Well, let’s just assume that some of you aren’t. So, the assumption was the Bible teaches eternal hell—but what kind of eternal hell does it teach? Does it teach an eternal hell where you’re conscious and in torment forever and ever? Or does it teach an eternal hell that’s like God annihilates you so that you cease to exist? You’re annihilated for eternity so both of them are eternal punishment but one as annihilationist later put it, “One’s an eternal punishing and the others an eternal punishment.” That was a debate that was particularly stirred up in evangelicalism in the late eighties. In some ways, that was a precursor to people then starting to ask, “Well, actually, might there be another view…?” This is one of the reasons why some of the traditionalists don’t like annihilationists—it is because once you open up the question, people then start asking other questions, and we would rather they didn’t ask questions because it’s a pain. They end up going in places you don’t want them to go because it’s dangerous—but with the best will in the world, they think it’s dangerous and I understand that. I’ve been carefully and kindly told I’m a heretic and that’s okay.

Scholars acknowledging universal salvation texts

So there is debate, and there has been debate for some time—particularly among evangelicals—about hell texts. But, of course, once you look at a hell text and go, “You know, maybe the bit about sheep and goats isn’t talking about eternal punishment as eternal conscious torment…,” that opens up other possibilities—particularly with regard to texts that appear on the surface to say something about universal salvation. There have been a growing number of New Testament scholars who’ve been going, “Well yeah, they really do say that.” Evangelical New Testament scholars kind of washed over them because “we knew they couldn’t mean what they said” but more often those who were not evangelical New Testament scholars—who didn’t really care whether the Bible was consistent or not—they go, “Oh well, those bits, yeah, they really are saying universal salvation, no question about it.” There has been a growing number of scholars who’ve been arguing that—which then opens up the universalist question. Those kinds of debates are ongoing, as are debates about how you hold together the diverse theologies of Scripture.

Diverse theologies of Scripture

Everybody agrees that Scripture has diverse theologies, the question is, how do you hold them together? I want to give a lot more attention to that in the next talk because there are various ways of doing that but that is where a lot of the interpretation debate is at, I think. Actually, this issue occurs even with a single author—Saint Paul is a prime example. Saint Paul seems to have texts which are universalist and seems to have texts which are sort of eschatological judgment and punishment—endtime punishment. How do you hold those together in Paul? Presumably, Paul had some kind of coherent thinking so what does he think these mean? How does he think these hold together? Did he even ask those questions? Those questions aren’t just as to how we hold Paul and Matthew together, or Paul and Job, or whatever, it’s how do we hold Paul and Paul together?


Above is my transcript—edited for readability—of an excerpt from the video below. For more transcripts see: Robin’s Hope & Hell videos

The School of Athens by Raphael.

Is the Fate of others more important than your own?

With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them.

Romans 9:1-3 (NLT)

Wow! Would you be willing to be cut off forever for the sake of others? I’m not confident I’d even be brave enough to die for someone, let alone be cut off forever. However, I believe Paul genuinely meant what he wrote as he gave up his life to serve others—he was literally killed doing it.

Jesus also valued the fate of others more than His own. He was cursed and killed by us yet miraculously He was raised. This will lead to the end of Paul’s sorrow and grief as it inaugurated the salvation of all our brothers and sisters! Paul doesn’t need to be forever cursed, indeed Christ says that in the Age to Come, “There will no longer be any curse” (Rev 22:3, cf Rom 5:12-21). 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves

Philippians 2:3 (NIV)

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 12:10 (NIV)

We are encouraged to value others above ourselves. This doesn’t mean despising ourselves as we are God’s precious children but hopefully it challenges us to be less self-indulgent. I know that’s hard as we are continually bombarded by a culture telling us we must focus on ourselves above all else and that we never have enough.

As Paul said in Romans 9, an even bigger aspect of valuing others is caring about their salvation. We definitely should do that now but what about when others don’t appear to be saved in this life? What does valuing others above ourselves look like in the Age to Come? I’d suggest we will continue inviting them:

Both the Spirit and the bride** say, “Come!”

Let anyone who hears, say, “Come!”

Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who desires take the water of life freely.

Revelation 22:17 (CSB)

I love how the invitation grows exponentially as the non-believers hearing and receiving the water of life invite others, who in turn invite even more!

** “the bride” is Christ’s Church, who I believe already have the water of life because when Jesus gives people the “water” now they never thirst again (John 4:14, below).

John4-14 (1207x246)

Jesus reinforces the “never” with the phrase: eis ton aiōna. Thayer’s, NAS, HELPS, et al. describe eis as “denoting entrance into” or “motion into”, ton as “the”, and aiōna as “age”. Those who receive His “water” now won’t be thirsty now, nor going forward into the Age to Come. I say, “Age to Come” because:

  1. We can’t go “into” our current age because we’re already in it.
  2. As the “water” quenching the thirst is directly linked to the life aiōnion—the adjective of aiōna—almost always describes things pertaining to the “Age to Come”.

Paul describes even the idea of his “brothers and sisters” not being saved as “bitter sorrow and unending grief”. His concern about salvation also extended to his Gentile (non-Jewish) “brothers and sisters” as he spent decades seeking to see them saved too:

For so the Lord has commanded [Paul and Barnabas], saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Acts 13:47, cf Isa 49:6, Rom 11:13, Eph 3:1 (ESV)

Indeed, a strong argument can be made that if anyone wasn’t saved believers would experience “unending grief” because Humanity is so tightly interconnected:

  • Biologically we are all one species—indeed one race—who are all distantly related to one another.

  • Physically we all share this planet, this global village.

  • Temporally we all live in this age together. 

  • Psychologically by agape love—the self-sacrificial love that God shows us and asks us to display. Talbott insightfully points out that in order to fully love someone, we must love those whom they love. Given there are now only six degrees of separation, this love creates a redundantly linked network between everyone.

  • Spiritually Christians believe we all share in the image of God, which is one of the reasons we are all children of God, even those who don’t yet live in the light of that relationship.

Praise be to God that He promises our grief will end when each and every person is made new!

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne [Jesus] said, “Look, I am making everything new.”

He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”

Revelation 21:4-5 (CSB)
Huge Crowd
A crowd of about half a million people (AP Photo/Dominique Mollard)